Summer's here now, and with it, the soaring temperatures of our high-desert climate. Nothing new in that, but what may be new to some is how the heat affects lawns.
Nice, green grass is not native to Nevada's dry and sandy soils, so homeowners wanting to present a lush, green welcome mat of grass need to take a few more steps than just turning on the automatic watering system.
That was the message that David Ruf, boss of Greenhouse Garden Center on Curry Street, had for about 30 anxious homeowners in a presentation on how to keep the green grass growing.
"Two things are vital," the cowboy-hatted Carson City native told his audience: "Enough water and enough nutrients."
But it's not just about turning on the faucet and letting it run.
For instance: "Many folks find that the grass along sidewalks grows higher than the sidewalk. Lowering that level can help make sure the water penetrates the grass and does some good," Ruf said.
• You have to make sure that the water penetrates down to the roots, he said. Aerating by punching small holes in the grass can help with that. A spade-like tool with prongs is inserted into the lawn. Plugs of dirt and grass are removed and usually just left on the lawn to return to the soil naturally.
• Grass is also affected by mowing. It bleeds, particularly if the mower blade is not sharp.
"Dull blades tear the grass. You've seen that green gunk in the mower bag? That's grass bleeding. It's a small investment, but a sharpened blade pays off in good grass."
• Hosting worms - while perhaps not the nicest thought - is important for healthy grass. Worms also aerate the soil, and "nightcrawlers are best, but ordinary fishing worms will help. They not only leave holes in the earth, they also leave organic materials in the soil."
• Mulching mowers - which are supposed to cut grass and make it into mulch that can fertilize the lawn - are often used incorrectly. "People buy them and think they can just use them when the feel like it. They don't realize that the grass blades should be cut in lengths of about a quarter inch. They don't mow often enough and have the blade or blades set too low. Doesn't work."
• As far as fertilizing goes, Ruf said that homeowners could utilize as many as seven different fertilizers, matching types to the seasons. "We've got lots of phosphate in our soil in Nevada. What we need to get into our ground is nitrogen. Lightning generates nitrogen, but lawns need more.
"They also need vital minerals, such as iron and sulfur. A dark green lawn is a healthy lawn, and use of sulfate of ammonia can get the sulfur into the ground."
• Weeds are a clue that something is wrong with the lawn; a healthy lawn won't let weeds in, he said. Weeds come in along the edge of lawns, and one of the most common is a pretty little yellow flower. Clover is a tough one, hard to kill. Liquid weed killer works best, he advised.
• Thatch is another lawn problem. Thatch is excess dead grass that piles up and blocks grass roots from getting water. Ruf said to deal with it by removing it with a thatch rake, specially designed for the purpose. A lawn that feels springy is usually loaded with thatch.
• Watering is, of course, critical in dry Nevada.
"If your soil is heavy - has more clay then sand - and does not drain or stays wet for days at a time, frequency of watering should be reduced, but not the duration," Ruf noted.
Which, of course, brings up the question of how to measure amount of water reaching the lawn? Ruf had an easy answer:
"Find a tin can with straight sides. Put it where the sprinklers hit with water and let it sit there during a watering cycle. Let it sit for a week and then measure."
Temperature and amount of water adjustments for Nevada lawns:
• At 70 degrees, .5 to .75 inches of water.
• At 80 degrees, .75 to 1 inch.
• At 90 degrees, 1 to 1.25 inches.
• At 100 degrees, 1.25 to 1.5 inches.
Planting a lawn
• Turf is easiest and best. Keep it damp. Get a soil analysis and correct the soil. Get rid of weeds. Plan your sprinkler system.
• Sod can be planted year around. Use native soil as much as possible. Mix in 3 to 5 yards of compost per 1,000 square feet. Rake the area before laying sod. Apply a starter fertilizer. Be sure soil is moist before laying sod.
• Begin laying sod in a square corner or make a straight line for the sod to follow. Lay three rolls end to end, making sure the grass is growing in the same direction. Leave no gaps between rolls. Moisten sod as it is put down. Roll the lawn to smooth out bumps. Water frequently, slack off as lawn sets.
• Stay off the lawn. Mow as needed.
Mending a lawn
• Best done in the fall. Healthy grass spreads by underground roots and will fill in some bare spots. Make sure you know what your problem is, soil tests will tell you what's missing.
• Mixtures of seeds are helpful because they combine beneficial traits of different grasses. Sections of lawns can become compacted; aerate (water the day before to soften soil). If removing thatch fertilize with 30-10-20 afterwards.
• Broadcast sees over a thinning area and rake it lightly to get it in the soil. Tamp with the back of a garden rake or roll it.
• Stagger sod rolls when replacing dead grass to avoid seams. Use a fine spray to water newly seeded areas. Grass should be 3 to 4 inches high and the turf knit together before a first mowing.
• Water regularly, make sure mower blade is sharp.